Even though it’s outpaced the national rate every decade since the 1930s, Denver is still growing; the city ranked sixth in Forbes’ Fastest-Growing Cities of 2015. More people means more vehicles are sharing the same roads, so driving in the Mile High City is more precarious than ever.
In 2013, Colorado’s Regional Air Quality Council awarded Denver’s Public Works Department (PWD) a $100,000 grant to explore ways to improve routing and driver behavior. After exploring options including Verizon Telematics, my group, Denver’s Solid Waste Management Division, decided on a product developed by Lytx Inc. of San Diego.
Lytx’s DriveCam addresses the causes of poor driving through video coaching. A windshield-mounted video camera records events, such as a hard swerve or sudden brake, that indicate unsafe behavior. Those clips are uploaded via a secure cellular connection to the DriveCam Risk Analysis Center, where they undergo human review and are transferred to clients along with insights that can be used to correct behavior.
Installed in 120 refuse trucks, the results exceeded our expectations. Fuel savings surpassed the grant’s value in the first year and the number and severity of accidents fell 50% over 30 months.
Although we first evaluated the technology as a fuel management tool, the program aligned with and reinforced our department and division’s fierce focus on safety.
Three times a year, public works partners with other agencies like the Colorado DOT for training. In addition to legislation and trends, Rubber Meets the Road addresses the number and types of accidents experienced in the previous quarter so we can constantly improve our performance.
DriveCam has become an important piece of this safety culture.
The program allows our team to see issues firsthand and address them in routine coaching sessions and at “Rubber Meets the Road.” Our drivers appreciate that the footage is relatable; rather than hypothetical situations, we present real-life examples from the same streets, hazards, and trucks they interact with every day on the job. In doing this, DriveCam provides an educational coaching opportunity that extends far beyond the driver’s cab and has enabled us to tackle some of our division’s – and probably yours – most pressing safety and operational challenges.
Doing away with driver distractions
We’ve tackled cell phone use for years. It’s not uncommon; at any given daylight moment, 660,000 drivers nationwide are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices. But it’s a dangerous (and, in Colorado, illegal) practice that harms our drivers, our organization, and of course, Americans with whom we share the road.
Despite that, changing a behavior so ingrained into the culture of certain age groups has been an uphill battle.
Recognizing the impossibility of addressing things happening in cabs when supervisors aren’t there, DriveCam helped us first identify cell phone use among our drivers. From there, we’ve been able to coach those drivers who exhibit risky behaviors. Now that they know this is something on which they can be assessed, usage has dropped significantly. From February 2015 to February 2016, we saw a 49% improvement in incidents of cell phone usage.
We also saw improvements in the percentage of complete stops at intersections and stop signs, following distance, and seatbelt use. That means drivers are significantly cutting down on tendencies that increase their likelihood of getting into an accident.
Drivers cited for seatbelt violations, for example, are 3.4 times more likely to get into a collision than the average driver. Another study found 5% of truck crashes occurred when the driver was following too closely. Since implementing the DriveCam program, I’ve seen more seatbelts worn in the past year than I have in my entire quarter-century of service in this department.
Visual proof is driver’s best defense
Approaching coaching from the right place has also proven key in boosting driver morale.
The 14 supervisors who review footage reward drivers when they’ve done everything right. We’ve driven home the fact that this is an opportunity to improve behaviors that come into play whether they’re operating a 30,000-pound refuse truck or taking their kids to school. For supervisors, it represents an opportunity for relationship-building and positive reinforcement. We compare coaching to watching film from yesterday’s football game: It helps us perform better, both as a team and on the individual level.
A video-based safety system has also helped us better prepare for and cope with property damage cases.
We service many homes from narrow alleys that are overgrown with vegetation and often have overhead wires that sometimes don’t meet city code. Driving regularly through these areas makes us a target for property damage claims – around 50 per quarter, most of which involve minor damage to fences, overhead cables, and phone wires.
We encourage drivers to use the system’s manual load feature when they see property damage they didn’t do. Collecting video evidence that includes date and time enables us to deny claims sent to our Risk Management Division.
This feature also lets drivers document containers not out for service, improper placement, and uncollectable items that supervisors use to follow up with residents. For property damage, even when the manual upload feature isn’t used, we’re able to review past footage and determine what did or didn’t set off the event recorder. That, coupled with the GPS features on DriveCam and Zonar, which we use for compliance documentation of DOT pre-/post-trip inspections to let us know which trucks were in which areas at which time, has helped in a number of pesky property damage claims.
Exoneration through video footage comes into play for accidents as well. We’ve had several minor and major incidents in which footage served as an impartial witness to show another vehicle at fault or at least show conditions of the accident, saving money and resources by avoiding or reducing legal suits.
In December 2015, a semi-trailer truck cut off and sideswiped one of our rear loader trucks heading to route and continued on without stopping. We downloaded the incident from DriveCam and turned it over to the police for review. The video clearly exonerated our driver and made for a swift insurance claim process, saving us precious time and resources.
Every new technology implementation brings challenges, of course. Ours was impacted by skepticism that the program was only punitive or that the camera would constantly record.
Before going live, we spent hours explaining how the system works and why it was being brought onboard. We emphasized that it’s incident-driven, meaning it only captures and records video when triggered by an event like a collision or hard braking. Explaining its benefits got a lot of drivers on board, too; it only takes one collision for which a driver is demonstrably not at fault to change his/her perception of the system forever.
The program has truly become an integral part of our overall safety culture.